Monthly Archives: March 2012

Shierak Qiya Jada

Indeed, season 2 (or series 2, depending on where you’re reading this from) is nearly upon us. This is a small announcement to let regular readers know that during the season I’m going to move away from the regular Dothraki qua Dothraki posts and write up responses to and commentaries on the episodes as we move through the second season (once it’s aired somewhere in the world, the spoiler curtain has lifted. Me nem nesa). Of course, since this is the Dothraki blog, I’ll be focusing on how a given episode relates to the Dothraki language and culture, and I’ll also discuss the Dothraki lines in each episode.

Before moving on, though, I’ve a bit of business to take care of. Last week I did an AMA over at Reddit (you can see the whole thing here), and redditor dopaminer asked the following:

Have you received requests from friends to make their names sound like the word for “awesome” or anything like that? (PS, if you still need to some up with a word for awesome, can it have the sound “rachel” in it?)

Of course, Dothraki has a word for “awesome” (vezhven), but I said I’d come up with something, and I have.

When it comes to flora and fauna vocabulary, I try to research what the Dothraki Sea might be like, but as you read through the Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin’s always throwing wild cards in. I’ve tried to come up with words for all the animals that the Dothraki encounter, and a good percentage of those they would likely encounter (e.g. animals around Slaver’s Bay and surrounding environs). We’ve already seen (and, indeed, already had a word for) the mighty lion, hrakkar, but in A Dance with Dragons we were introduced to the city of Volantis, where there are two major political parties: The Elephants and the Tigers. We’d seen elephants before (or at least in cyvasse), but this was, to my knowledge, the first mention of tigers (or tiger cloaks, for that matter). As it seems only right that the Dothraki would come up with their own words for the mightiest of beasts, “tiger” is a good candidate for a new stem.

While most animate nouns that aren’t humans end in a vowel, there are a number of beast words that are disyllabic and end in a consonant—to wit:

  • hrakkar “lion”
  • noah “bull”
  • qlaseh “deer (archaic)”
  • hlizif “bear”
  • kolver “eagle”

And, since tigers are awesome, it seems only fitting to add a new one to the list:

  • rachel “tiger”

There you go, dopaminer! The word is, of course, stressed on the second syllable, and the vowels are different (and the consonants, a bit), but romanized, you can see the resemblance. And, hey, now we’ve got half of the Volantine political factions in Dothraki! Racheli Volanti. I like it. Now we just need “elephant”…

To everyone else, let the countdown begin! I’ve seen the first episode, and it was damn good. I think everyone will be pleased. Fonas chek!

(Oh, and regarding the featured image, I didn’t have any tiger pictures, so that’s, uh…a murloc. That’s close, right?)

Game of Thrones Season 2 Premiere Event

Tonight I went to the season 2 cast and crew premiere event for Game of Thrones in LA. It’s a great venue (the Ray Kurtzman Theater at CAA), of course, and a fun time out, but it’s also nice to see people I mainly communicate with via e-mail face to face—though, as usual, I forgot to get pictures. However, you can see Bryan Cogman in this shot:

Last time we saw the first two episodes of season 1; this time we just the first episode of season 2. But…man! These guys do good work. I won’t give anything away, but one thing viewers will notice at the very beginning: Peter Dinklage’s name has moved on up to the east side, as it were (when the first episode airs, compare it to the season 1 intro). Granted, some of the names that were ahead of his aren’t around any longer, but nonetheless, it’s well-deserved!

After the screening was over, there was an after party, and as I was waiting to get my car, I finally had a chance to chat face-to-face with the man himself, khali khali (or perhaps khal khaloa?), zhey Drogo: Jason Momoa.

So, I knew Jason Momoa was buff; we’ve seen that. I don’t think I fully appreciated just how tall he was. Check out this photo:

Me and Jason Momoa.

And hes’ not even standing up tall! Bet that dude could dunk if he put his mind to it. After that one, he said we should make angry, Drogo faces. The result:

Me and Jason Momoa doing angry faces.

It’s an iPhone camera, so we looked at the picture afterwards, and Jason’s exact words were, “Dude, you look constipated!” Yeah… Oops! Truth is, I just couldn’t do an angry face, because I was so floored to be meeting and talking to Lisa Bonet (i.e. Denise). I mean, I grew up with The Cosby Show: That family feels like they’re real to me! I didn’t say anything (after all, every one of the main cast members has heard every comment and question in the world about The Cosby Show ten billion times over), but I couldn’t keep my face from smiling.

At the after party at The Eveleigh, there was legitimate full-course dinner food there, as well as appetizers (which I was grateful for, since I hadn’t eaten much that day). Here’s what I had:

Food I had.

See how red that meat is?! Man, that was good! So that got me to thinking: How would you characterize rare vs. well-done meat in Dothraki? Not an easy question. In my experience, those who live in the Midwest (of America) on farms and actually have a hand in the whole food preparation process only eat well-done meat. Ask for something rare in their presence, and they’ll give you a look like you just stepped out of a chicken. (Think about that one for a minute.)

While the Dothraki are preparing their own meat, I can’t help but think they wouldn’t share this prohibition (I wanted to say superstition, but I’m sure farm people have good reasons for distrusting rare meat [and I'm sure I don't want to know what those reasons are]). After all, they have pregnant women eat a raw horse’s heart which has just been ripped from a live horse’s body—and they think this will help the fetus, as opposed to lead to salmonella, or something. So “raw” probably isn’t the word for it.

Looking over the vocabulary, I already have words that I think will cover one scale—both vegetation and meat:

  • chosh “fresh” ~ rikh “rotten”

This is one scale (the “how likely is this to be bad?” scale), and I think it works fine for meat. So chosh can cover “raw” or “rare”, depending on the circumstance. In addition to this, though, there’s also the heating scale. Given what we see of the Dothraki, it doesn’t seem to me like they’ve invested a lot in slow-cooking or baking: it’s probably burnt or not burnt. Given those two extremes, going by the color of the meat seems like a good way to characterize the meat:

  • virzeth “red” ~ kazga “black”

So if you ever get a Dothraki waiter, you’ve got two options: che gavat virzeth che gavat kazga. And to me it seems likely that, in the world of Dothraki cuisine (to the extent that that phrase even makes sense), it’s not the case that there’s a dish and you decide how “done” you like your meat—rather, there are dishes where the meat will be virzeth, and dishes where the meat will be kazga, and switching them doesn’t make sense (like if you ordered chicken parmigiana and you got steak parmigiana instead of chicken: it’s just a different dish). That’s my read. What do you think? (Actually, I wonder what they’d think over at The Inn at the Crossroads…)

Developing Canon

As we’re approaching the April 1st premiere of season 2 of Game of Thrones, I thought it’d be worthwhile to take a look back at the early days of Dothraki.

To start us off, let’s take a look at the Dothraki that existed in the books before I took a crack at it. Step number one was deciding how the words in the books would (and/or could and/or should) be pronounced. I came up with a solution (summarized here), but it wasn’t without controversy. In analyzing the words in the books, I held to the following principles:

  1. The spellings in the books are canon.
  2. Different spelling = different sound.
  3. The resultant phonology should be linguistically sound.
  4. The resultant phonology shouldn’t be too difficult for an English-speaking actor to pronounce.

As a result of the above, the hr in hranna is pronounced differently from the rh in rhaggat, and so forth. There were a couple of changes I made, though, and they’re worth discussing. One minor one was a spelling change that can be illustrated nicely with one name: Jhiqui.

That’s how her name is spelled in the book. I didn’t quite know what to make of jh when I first saw it. It contrasts with j by itself (consider haj and Jommo), which means that jh should be a different sound from j. Since the “h” in English tends to make stops into fricatives (cf. “t” > “th”) and move the place of fricatives towards the palate (cf. “s” > “sh”), I thought it’d be reasonable to assume that jh stood for a voiced palato-alveolar fricative ([ʒ], like the “z” in “azure”). I may have been influenced by the fact that [ʒ] is my favorite sound, but I still think the supposition is a reasonable one.

Anyway, this is where I made a decision. Since jh is rather a bizarre digraph, I decided to change the spelling to zh. I’ve always thought that that was the best way to represent the sound to an English speaker, because it fits this analogy:

s : sh :: z : zh

That, however, has not proved to be the case. Not only did some of the actors have trouble with zh (often pronouncing it as if it were z), but I’ve also heard from others that zh is problematic.

There are two reasons I can think of that an English speaker wouldn’t do well with zh for [ʒ]: One, they don’t know how the digraph ought to be pronounced (at a glance), or two, they misinterpret it as a sequence of z and h.

At the heart of both problems, I believe, is the nebulous nature of the phoneme [ʒ] in English. There are no minimal pairs (or at least no common ones. Perhaps if someone knows of one, they can leave a comment), but there are near minimal pairs in “pleasure” and “pressure”. (Ooh… Actually, what about “azure” and “asher”?) Additionally, there is no systematic way to spell the sound. It appears as “ge” in “rouge”, “g” in “genre”, “s” in “leisure”, “si” in “fusion”, “z” in “azure”, “j” in “Taj Mahal”, and part of “x” in “luxury”. English has a funky spelling system, but for just about every other consonant phoneme, there is a definite, basic spelling. Not so with [ʒ].

Daenerys has suggested that it’s more difficult to get zh right before a and o; less so before i and e. This makes intuitive sense because zh is a palatal sound, and i and e are front vowels. She suggested that zh might be spelled zhy, but perhaps just in front of a and o—which does make sense. I’d thought previously of spelling the sound zy. For the sake of neatness, though, I’d want to respell what is now spelled as sh as sy, which doesn’t seem ideal… As a result, I think we’re stuck with zh.

Anyway, the whole point of bringing this up is that I decided to respell jh as zh (thought it’d be easier. Oh well). This doesn’t mean, though, that the spellings in the books ought to change. Since it’s a one-to-one correspondence, jh is just the book’s way of spelling Dothraki zh (or vice-versa). This means that if anything from modern Dothraki with zh shows up in the books, it would be spelled with jh, e.g. jhavvorsa, mahrajh, vejhven, etc.

Oh, and also present in Jhiqui’s name is the change from qu to kw, which shouldn’t be too controversial. Beyond that, though, I made a couple of other changes which are worth noting.

The letters p and b occur almost nowhere in Dothraki. In fact they only appear in two places: In the names Pono and Bharbo. Given the sound change I proposed (a merger of older p and f as well as b and v), it seemed reasonable enough to have them survive only in names. As the Havazh Dothraki is large, it seems reasonable to assume that there are probably several different varieties of Dothraki spoken by different khalasars. They’re probably mutually intelligible (being able to communicate in Vaes Dothrak is motivation enough to maintain communicability), but it seems likely that some varieties may have preserved the p/f and b/v distinctions, meaning that this is a dialectal variation that Dothraki speakers everywhere are likely aware of (kind of like the t/k distinction in Hawaiian).

While for the most part the schema I came up with above worked out pretty well, there were a couple places where it may have caused more problems than it solved. One obvious one is the word khaleesi. Going by Dothraki’s spelling system, the word should be pronounced [ˈ] (or KHA-lay-yay-see). More often than not, though, it’s pronounced [ka.ˈ] (or kah-LEE-see). There’s not much to say about the [k] and the stress (bound to happen), but the “ee” part is troubling. It seems quite sensible that any English speaker would pronounce the “ee” as if it were like the “ee” in “keep” or “seem”. What wasn’t sensible, perhaps, was my idea that it wouldn’t be any trouble to switch over to the “real” Dothraki pronunciation (i.e. pronouncing it just like it’s spelled). Evidently they made an executive decision on the show to pronounce it like the “ee” in “keep” even when it’s spoken in Dothraki. And I suppose I can’t blame them. It does seem reasonable enough. If I had it to do over, perhaps I would’ve bent the rules just a little bit and made the official spelling khalisi—or maybe even khalissi to get the stress right. Oh well. Live and learn.

One I’ve mentioned before elsewhere (but not here, I believe) is George R. R. Martin’s peculiar pronunciation of the word “Dothraki”. Those who have seen him in person know how he pronounces it, but if you haven’t, he pronounces the last “i” as if it were like the “i” in “bike” or “fungi” or “alumni”. I was shocked the first time I heard it. I thought I simply misheard him, but no: His pronunciation is consistent on this point. It does certainly change the character and flavor of the word quite a bit. As far as I know, though, he’s the only one that pronounces the word this way, so I didn’t feel too bad about giving it the usual “ee” pronunciation.

Finally, there’s the issue of the vowel sequence ae. I honestly had no idea what to do with this. I thought I’d be well served in treating the two as separate vowels (as in Spanish “caer”). It seems, though, that the preferred pronunciation is like the “a” in “gate”. Aside from the variant of “Rachel” spelled “Raechel”, I don’t think we have that sequence pronounced that way in English, so I’m not sure if I would’ve guessed that that was how it was “supposed” to be pronounced. On the show, most of the time they went with standard Dothraki pronunciation. The one major time where they didn’t was with the pronunciation of the name “Rhaego”. That, however, is Dany’s old brother’s name (Rhaegar) with a Dothraki -o added in place of the Valyrian -ar, so it’s not too bizarre that the spelling has a different pronunciation (it’s not a true Dothraki name, after all).

Well, I had intended all of this to be rather the introduction to a longer post. The word count thingy at the bottom of this post tells me I’m up over 1400 words already, though, so I suppose I’d better bring this to a close. I’ll likely revisit this topic some time in the future, though, as there’s more to be said. Until then, fonas chek!

Dothraki in Arabic

Taking a break from grammar, I thought I’d write up a little guide about how to write Dothraki using the Arabic script. It’s actually mostly written up, so all I have to do is transfer it over to the blog (heh, heh…).

Of course, one might wonder: Why would I already have a guide for transcribing Dothraki using the Arabic script? For that, we have to go way back to the days before the Game of Thrones pilot was filmed. Back then, I think the general feeling was that the show would be picked up for at least one season (it wasn’t official, of course, but we all kind of had a gut feeling), and at the time (back when Daenerys was being played by Tamzin Merchant), the Dothraki scenes were all being shot in Morocco—and I, at least, thought they would continue to be shot in Morocco.

In Hollywood, though, radical sweeping changes can happen overnight, and soon Tamzin Merchant was replaced by Emilia Clarke, and Morocco itself was replaced by Malta, and the rest is history. During the Morocco days, though, the word was that many Dothraki extras would likely be Moroccan, meaning they might know French, and would likely know Arabic, but might not know English. Since the Dothraki romanization was designed with English speakers in mind, I decided it would make sense to devise a French-inspired romanization system, as well as one utilizing the Arabic script. I detailed both of these systems in the original materials I sent to Dave and Dan. I’ll probably write up the French romanization system I came up with later, but for now, let’s take a look at the Arabic system.

First, some important facts about Arabic writing. The system is, technically (as it’s used today), an alphabet, but it began its existence as an abjad. An abjad is a writing system that treats vowels as incidental, encoding only the consonants. Thus, in an Arabic word like kataba, “he wrote”, you generally write the equivalent of ktb, with the vowels being assumed. As it is now, there are certain vowels that must be written (long vowels), and there’s a secondary set of diacritics that can be used to optionally write all vowels, so it really looks more like an alphabet, but it’s abjadic history is evident to any who use the script.

Unlike most Western scripts, the Arabic script is written from right to left (which is a nightmare if you want to drop a word of Arabic into a predominantly English text, let me tell you), and most of the characters connect to one another (as with cursive writing in English). It’s also, in my opinion, gorgeous. I fell in love with the Arabic script the first time I saw it, and am glad to have had the opportunity to learn the language and use the script (also is useful to be able to read it).

Anyway, for those who love great big tables, you’re in for a treat! Here’s the full system for rendering Dothraki in Arabic (note: for diacritic vowels, I’m using Arabic د [d] as the bearer below; romanized forms with an asterisk are non-standard. I’ve also enlarged the font size of the Arabic a little bit so the characters are easier to see):

Arabic Transcription of Dothraki
Romanized Form IPA Transcription Arabic Transcription
A, a [a] دَ ,ۃ ,ا
B, b* [b] ب
Ch, ch [tʃ] چ
D, d [d] د
E, e [e] دَ ,ۃ ,ا
F, f [f] ف
G, g [g] ݣ
H, h [h] ح
I, i [i] ي
J, j [dʒ] ج
K, k [k] ك
Kh, kh [x] خ
L, l [l] ل
M, m [m] م
N, n [n] ن
O, o [o] و
P, p* [p] پ
Q, q [q] ق
R, r [ɾ] ر
S, s [s] س
Sh, sh [ʃ] ش
T, t [t] ت
Th, th [θ] ث
V, v [v]
W, w [w] و
Y, y [j] ي
Z, z [z] ز
Zh, zh [ʒ] ژ

Many of the choices above are (as anyone who reads Arabic will probably immediately recognize) not uncontroversial. It is nice, though, that Arabic has dedicated letters for q and th, which are often difficult for native, real world orthographies to represent. A summary of the reasoning behind some of the decisions made above is below:

  • I’ve completed conflated a and e. It’s difficult to distinguish between the two in the Arabic script, frankly. Apart from introducing a new letter (or, perhaps, using the diphthong يْ), though, there isn’t much to be done. I’d be open to suggestions. (Note: I’d originally used a kasra diacritic for e, but decided against it, as it seemed unnatural.)
  • As in Arabic, there’s no distinction between y and i. One choice I made was to mirror that with w and o (in Arabic, w and u). The character و is often used for o in borrowings (e.g. دبلوم “diploma”), so I figure all it would take is a note that و is always pronounced [o] when used as a vowel, and Arabic speakers would get it right.
  • It was quite tempting to render zh as ج, but most speakers actually have something closer to j for that, so I resorted to using a non-standard character ژ, which I hoped would be recognizable.
  • Arabic speakers will notice that I used ح rather than ه for h, even though the latter is closer to the Dothraki h in most places. The reason is (thinking back to the actual Moroccan extras, remember), I was hoping they’d actually use the Arabic sound ح which I thought would be too difficult for English-speaking actors. I’d always imagined that sound in particular when creating and working with Dothraki.
  • The character گ is the one I see most often for g (probably because it’s used in Farsi), but my brother-in-law, who’s been to Morocco, said they use ݣ, so I went with that.
  • Of course, as with Arabic, gemination is indicated with a shadda above the consonant in question. It looks like a little w (دّ).

Now with that out of the way, let’s see it in action! Here’s a Dothraki sentence in the romanization, then in the Arabic script, then translated:

  • Hash yer vineseri dothrakh ataki kishi, zhey shekh ma shieraki anni?
  • حاش يَر ڤينَسَري دوثراخ آتَكي كيشي، ژَي شَخ ما شيَّرَكي انّي؟
  • “Do you remember our first ride, my sun and stars?”

Ha! That was so much fun. I realize I may be the only one who appreciates this, but despite the vowel clusters of Dothraki, I always imagined it written in the Arabic script. Even though it’s a pain in the choyo to write it out using Unicode, it’s fun to see it on the screen.

Thanks for indulging me!

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